Mr. Seward to Mr. Sullivan.
Sir: Dispatches have been received from the minister resident and from consuls of the United States in the republic of Colombia. From these dispatches it appears that the President of the United States of Colombia has dissolved the national congress and proclaimed the republic to be in a condition of civil war. Civil war is here understood to be actually existing in that country. Official information has been received that the authorities of the State of Panama, one of the constituent States of the republic of Colombia, are actually levying and demanding extraordinary taxes from the citizens of that State, including all domiciled United States citizens, with the acknowledged purpose of using the revenues thus obtained in carrying on war against the hitherto recognized authorities of the federal government of that republic. The department is further advised that not only are such taxes demanded, but the payment thereof, although they are levied for a future period, is required in advance. United States citizens who are menanced with this extraordinary taxation have applied to this goverment for protection against the same.
Citizens of the United States domiciled in the State of Panama and [Page 1012] within the republic of Colombia have no lawful exemption from ordinary and equal taxes which are levied in a constitutional manner and for constitutional purposes by the authorities of the federal or State government, of that country. It is by no means clear, however, that such domiciled United States citizens can legally or justly be subjected to the payment of extraordinary taxes or contributions to the government of a state for the purpose of resisting, and, as it would now seem, absolutely overthrowing the federal union of Colombia, to which government the United States are bound to guarantee a constitutional control, regulated by treaty with the United States, of the international railroad transit across the Isthmus of Panama. At the same time the civil war which has been proclaimed in Colombia is manifestly imperfectly developed, at least is very imperfectly understood here.
The government of the United States desires to maintain peaceful relations with the United States of Colombia. Moreover, the United States do not desire to embarrass the independent action of that republic by recognizing prematurely or unnecessarily any belligerent parties or powers there. On the other hand, the United States are not now prepared to admit that the complaints of the United States citizens in Panama before mentioned are without just foundation in the treaty which exists between the two countries, the constitution of Colombia, and the law of nations. The voluntary payment of taxes to the State of Panama for the purpose of carrying on war against the republic of Colombia might embarrass the United States in the fulfillment of their treaty obligations to the republic of Colombia, while it would seem likely to compromise the just claims of those citizens upon that republic for protection and redress.
For the present, therefore, and until further direction shall be given by this department, United States citizens resident in the State of Panama may decline to pay such taxes and contributions as are above described, except under protest. If payment shall be forced by the authorities of Panama, they will file their protests with the United States consuls, by whom such protests will be immediately transmitted to the minister resident of the United States, if he is conveniently accessible; and if not accessible, then directly to this department.
When the character of the conflict shall be more fully known the determination of this government upon the questions submitted to it will be promptly made, and such proceedings will in any case be adopted as shall conform to treaty obligations, while they shall fully protect the citizens of the United States in their just and lawful rights.
Only such blockades as shall be duly proclaimed and maintained by adequate force, in conformity to the law of nations, will be observed and respected by the United States. The naval authorities of the United States in the waters of Colombia will be expected to exercise vigilance during the continuance of the civil war, conferring with the minister resident in preventing any obstruction of the inter-oceanic transit, or any unlawful violence to citizens of the United States.
The minister and the consuls will make the contents of this dispatch known to the federal and state authorities of Columbia. A copy of the same has been delivered to the minister plenipotentiary from that republic residing at Washington.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
Peter J. Sullivan, Esq., &c., &c., &c.
[Same to all the consuls and consular agents of the United States in the republic of Colombia.]